Naga people

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Naga people
Tangkhul Naga Woman in traditional attire.jpg
A Tangkhul Naga woman in her traditional outfit
Total population
2.8 millions+(approx)
Regions with significant populations
India2.7 millions+ [1]
           Nagaland 1,700,000
           Manipur 700,000
           Arunachal Pradesh 200,000
           Assam 40,000 - 80,000
           Meghalaya 3,000
           Mizoram 1,000
Myanmar300,000 [2]
           Naga SAZ 120,000+ [3]
           Sagaing Division NA
           Kachin State NA
Naga languages, Northern Naga languages, Nagamese Creole, English
Christianity (majority); Theravada Buddhism; Animism; Heraka
Related ethnic groups
Meiteis, East Asians, Singphos, Tamans†, etc

Nagas [4] are various ethnic groups native to the northeastern India and northwestern Myanmar. The groups have similar cultures and traditions, and form the majority of population in the Indian state of Nagaland and Naga Self-Administered Zone of Myanmar; with significant populations in Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam in India; Sagaing Division and Kachin State in Myanmar.


The Nagas are divided into various Naga ethnic groups whose numbers and population are unclear. They each speak distinct Naga languages often unintelligible to the others.


The present day Naga people have been called by many names, like 'Noga' by Assamese [5] 'Hao' by Manipuri [6] and 'Chin' by Burmese. [7] However, over time 'Naga' became the commonly accepted nomenclature. According to the Burma Gazetteer, the term 'Naga' is of doubtful origin and is used to describe hill tribes that occupy the country between the Chin in the south and Kachin (Singpho) in the Northeast. [8]


The Naga languages are either classified under the Kuki-Chin-Naga languages or the Sal languages.

Nagas have more language diversity than any other ethnic group or states in India. Naga people speak over 89 different languages and dialects, mostly unintelligible with each other. However, there are many similarities in between different languages spoken by them. The diversity of languages and traditions of the Nagas results most likely from the multiple cultural absorptions that occurred during their successive migrations. According to legend, before settling in the region, these groups moved over vast zones, and in the process, some clans were absorbed into one or more other groups. Therefore, until recent times, absorptions were a source of many interclan conflicts. [9]

In 1967, the Nagaland Assembly proclaimed English as the official language of Nagaland and it is the medium for education in Nagaland. Other than English, Nagamese, a creole language form of the Assamese language, is a widely spoken language. Every community has its own mother tongue but communicates with other communities in either Nagamese or English. However, English is the predominant spoken and written language in Nagaland.[ citation needed ]



The Naga people love colour as is evident in the shawls designed and woven by women, and in the headgear that both sexes design. Clothing patterns are traditional to each group, and the cloths are woven by the women. They use beads in variety, profusion and complexity in their jewelry, along with a wide range of materials including glass, shell, stone, teeth or tusk, claws, horns, metal, bone, wood, seeds, hair, and fibre. [10]

According to Dr. Verrier Elwin, these groups made all the goods they used, as was once common in many traditional societies: "they have made their own cloth, their own hats and rain-coats; they have prepared their own medicines, their own cooking-vessels, their own substitutes for crockery.". [11] Craftwork includes the making of baskets, weaving of cloth, wood carving, pottery, metalwork, jewellery-making and bead-work.

Weaving of colorful woolen and cotton shawls is a central activity for women of all Nagas. One of the common features of Naga shawls is that three pieces are woven separately and stitched together. Weaving is an intricate and time consuming work and each shawl takes at least a few days to complete. Designs for shawls and wraparound garments (commonly called mekhala) are different for men and women.

Ancestral Naga Beads, Courtesy Wovensouls Collection Ancestral Naga Tribal Beads.jpg
Ancestral Naga Beads, Courtesy Wovensouls Collection

Among many groups the design of the shawl denotes the social status of the wearer. Some of the more known shawls include Tsungkotepsu and Rongsu of the Aos; Sutam, Ethasu, Longpensu of the Lothas; Supong of the Sangtams, Rongkhim and Tsungrem Khim of the Yimchungers; and the Angami Lohe shawls with thick embroidered animal motifs.

Naga jewelry is an equally important part of identity, with the entire tribe wearing similar bead jewelry.

The Indian Chamber of Commerce has filed an application seeking registration of traditional Naga shawls made in Nagaland with the Geographical Registry of India for Geographical Indication. [12]


Smoked pork with akhuni, a fermented soybean product Naga Smoked Pork with Axone (Fermented Soyabeans).jpg
Smoked pork with akhuni, a fermented soybean product

Naga cuisine is characterized by smoked and fermented foods.

Folk song and dances

Folk songs and dances are essential ingredients of the traditional Naga culture. The oral tradition is kept alive through the media of folk tales and songs. Naga folk songs are both romantic and historical, with songs narrating entire stories of famous ancestors and incidents. Seasonal songs describe activities done in a particular agricultural cycle. The early Western missionaries opposed the use of folk songs by Naga Christians as they were perceived to be associated with spirit worship, war, and immorality. As a result, translated versions of Western hymns were introduced, leading to the slow disappearance of indigenous music from the Naga hills. [13]

Folk dances of the Nagas are mostly performed in groups in synchronized fashion, by both men and women, depending on the type of dance. Dances are usually performed at festivals and religious occasions. War dances are performed mostly by men and are athletic and martial in style. All dances are accompanied by songs and war cries by the dancers. Indigenous musical instruments made and used by the people are bamboo mouth organs, cup violins, bamboo flutes, trumpets, drums made of cattle skin, and log drums. [14]


The various Naga groups have their own distinct festivals. To promote inter-group interaction, the Government of Nagaland has organized the annual Hornbill Festival since 2000. Another inter-tribe festival is Lui Ngai Ni. The group-specific festivals include: [15]

hornbill festival Hornbill Festival.jpg
hornbill festival
FestivalEthnic groupTimeMajor center
Chiithuni festival Mao January (7) Mao Gate
Sekrenyi Angami February Kohima
Chavan kumhrin Anal Naga October (23) Chandel
Ngada Rengma November (last week) Kohima
Luira Phanit Tangkhul Naga February/March Ukhrul
Chagaa, Gaan-Ngai, Hega n'gi, Mlei-Ngyi Zeliangrong Communities - (Liangmei, Rongmei, and Zeme)December (last week), 10 March for Melei-Ngyi Tamenglong-Cachar, Jalukie
Sükhrünyie, Tsükhenyie Chakhesang January & March/April Phek
Yemshi Pochury September/October Phek
Moatsü Ao May (first week) Mokokchung
Aoleang Konyak April (first week) Mon
Monyu Phom April (first week) Longleng
Miu Khiamniungan May (second week) Tuensang
Naknyu Lem Chang July (second week) Tuensang
Metemneo Yimchunger August (second week) Tuensang
Amongmong Sangtam September (first week) Tuensang
Tokhu Emong Lotha November (first week) Wokha
Tuluni Sumi July Zunheboto
Thounii Festival Poumai Naga January (18th to 22nd) Senapati

Naga identity

The word Naga originated as an exonym. [16] Today, it covers a number of ethnic groups that reside in Nagaland, Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh states of India, and also in Myanmar.

A Naga tribesman Naga warrior.jpg
A Naga tribesman

Before the arrival of the British, the term "Naga" was used by Assamese to refer to certain isolated ethnic groups. The British adopted this term for a number of ethnic groups in the surrounding area, based on loose linguistic and cultural associations. The number of groups classified as "Naga" increased significantly in the 20th century: as of December 2015, 89 groups are classified as Naga by the various sources. This expansion in the "Naga" identity has been due to a number of factors including the quest for upward mobility in the society of Nagaland, and the desire to establish a common purpose of resistance against dominance by other groups. In this way, the "Naga" identity has not always been fixed. [17]

The Kuki people of Nagaland have been classified as "Naga" in the past, but today are generally considered a non-Naga. The Kuki have had good relations with the Naga in the past, but since the 1990s, conflicts have risen, especially in Manipur.

Nagas in India

Several Naga tribes are listed as scheduled tribes in 6 Indian States i.e. Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland. [18]

Nagas in Myanmar

Nagas in Myanmar are mostly found in Sagaing Division and Kachin state. The Naga territory in Myanmar is marked by Kabaw valley in the south bordering to the Chin state, the Kachin on the north and the Burmese on the east. [19]

The Major Naga ethnic groups in Myanmar are:

  1. Konyak
  2. Lainong
  3. Makury
  4. Nokko (Khiamniungan)
  5. Para
  6. Somra Tangkhul
  7. Tangshang

Some other minor Naga groups are Anal, Lamkang, Moyon, Koka, Longphuri, Paung Nyuan, etc

The townships which are inhabited by the Nagas are:

  1. Homalin
  2. Lahe with Tanbakwe sub-township
  3. Layshi with Mowailut sub-township and Somra sub-township
  4. Hkamti
  5. Nanyun with Pangsau and Dunghi sub-township
  6. Tamu of Sagaing Division and
  7. Tanai of Kachin state

Anal and Moyon are mainly found in Tamu township on the south and a few Somra Nagas are also found in and around Tamu bordering to Layshi jurisdiction. Makury, Para and Somra tribes are mainly found in Layshi township. Makury Nagas and a few Somra Nagas are also found in Homalin township. Lahe is highly populated by Konyak, Nokko, Lainong and Makury tribes. Nanyun on the north is the home of Tangshang tribe which comprises more than 54 sub-dialect groups. Homlin township is highly populated by the considered lost tribes (Red Shans). But Kukis, Burmese, Chinese and Indians are also found there. Hkamti township is populated altogether by all the Naga tribes majority and with a number of Burmese, Shans, Chinese and Indians. Tanai in Kachin state of Myanmar is inhabited by the Tangshang Nagas among the Kachin people.

See also

Related Research Articles

Nagaland State in North East India

Nagaland is a state in north-eastern India. It is bordered by the state of Arunachal Pradesh to the north, Assam to the west, Manipur to the south and the Sagaing Region of Myanmar to the east. Nagaland's capital city is Kohima and its largest city is Dimapur. It has an area of 16,579 square kilometres (6,401 sq mi) with a population of 1,980,602 per the 2011 Census of India, making it one of the smallest states of India.

Sagaing Region Region of Myanmar

Sagaing Region is an administrative region of Myanmar, located in the north-western part of the country between latitude 21° 30' north and longitude 94° 97' east. It is bordered by India’s Nagaland, Manipur, and Arunachal Pradesh States to the north, Kachin State, Shan State, and Mandalay Region to the east, Mandalay Region and Magway Region to the south, with the Ayeyarwady River forming a greater part of its eastern and also southern boundary, and Chin State and India to the west. The region has an area of 93,527 km2. In 1996, it had a population of over 5,300,000 while its population in 2012 was 6,600,000. The urban population in 2012 was 1,230,000 and the rural population was 5,360,000. The capital city of Sagaing Region is Monywa.

Northeast India Group of Northeastern Indian states

Northeast India is the easternmost region of India representing both a geographic and political administrative division of the country. It comprises eight states – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim. The region shares an international border of 5,182 kilometres (3,220 mi) with several neighbouring countries – 1,395 kilometres (867 mi) with Tibet Autonomous Region, China in the north, 1,640 kilometres (1,020 mi) with Myanmar in the east, 1,596 kilometres (992 mi) with Bangladesh in the south-west, 97 kilometres (60 mi) with Nepal in the west, and 455 kilometres (283 mi) with Bhutan in the north-west. It comprises an area of 262,230 square kilometres (101,250 sq mi), almost 8 percent of that of India.

Kuki people

The Kukis constitute one of several hill tribes within India, Bangladesh, and Burma. Zo people (Mizo) are known as Chin in the Chin State of Myanmar, as Mizo in the State of Mizoram and as Kuki in the state of Manipur in India are a number of related Tibeto-Burman tribal peoples spread throughout the northeastern states of India, northwestern Burma, and the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. In Northeast India, they are present in all states except Arunachal Pradesh. This dispersal across international borders is a culmination of punitive actions made by the British during their occupation of India.

Mon district District in India, Nagaland

Mon (Pron:/mɒn/) is a district of Nagaland, a state in India.

Tangkhul Naga

The Tangkhuls are a major ethnic group living in the Indo-Burma border area occupying the Ukhrul and Kamjong district in Manipur, India and the Somra tract hills, Layshi township, Homalin township and Tamu Township in Burma. Despite this international border, many Tangkhul have continued to regard themselves as "one nation". Tangkhuls living in Burma are also known as Hogo Naga/Eastern Tangkhul/Somra Tangkhul. Also Kokak Naga and Akyaung Ari Naga are included tribally within Tangkhul Naga tribe but their language are quite distinct. The Tangkhul (Somra/Hogo) language in Myanmar is very different from Tangkhul (Ukhrul) spoken in India. The villages in the north like Jessami,kuingai, Soraphung and Chingjaroi (swimai) have quite a different culture than the main Tangkhul group but have more cultural ties with that of the Chakhesang poumai tribes.

The Kuki-Chin–Naga languages are a geographic clustering of languages of the Sino-Tibetan family in James Matisoff's classification used by Ethnologue, which groups it under the non-monophyletic "Tibeto-Burman". Their genealogical relationship both to each other and to the rest of Sino-Tibetan is unresolved, but Matisoff lumps them together as a convenience pending further research.

The Naga languages are a geographic and ethnic grouping of languages under the Kuki-Chin-Naga languages, spoken mostly by Naga peoples. Glottolog has classified Karbic and Meitei within the Naga group, even though their speakers are not ethnically Naga.


Zogam known as Zoland, Lushai Hills, Kuki Hills, lies in the northwest corner of the Mainland Southeast Asia landmass. This is the traditional ancestry homeland of the Zo people or Zomi who lived in this area before the colonial period under British rulership.

Naga nationalism is an ideology that supports the self-determination of the Naga people in India and Myanmar, and the furtherance of Naga culture.

Liangmai Naga

The Liangmai tribe inhabits Nagaland and Manipur states of Northeast India. Their villages are mostly spread across Peren district in Nagaland and Tamenglong, Senapati in Manipur. There are also few villages in Dimapur, Imphal East and Imphal West districts. The Liangmais are the main inhabitants and dominate in Tening town, sub-division of Peren district of Nagaland state, and Tamei town, sub-division of Tamenglong district of Manipur state.

The Zo people are an ethnic group of India, Bangladesh and Myanmar. The word Zo is used to describe an ethnic group, also known as the Mizo, the Kuki, the Zomi, the Chin and a number of other names based on geographic distribution, are a large group of related Tibeto-Burman peoples spread throughout the northeastern states of India, northwestern Myanmar (Burma) and the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. In northeastern India, they are present in: Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur and Assam. This dispersal across international borders resulted from a British colonial policy that drew borders on political grounds rather than ethnic ones. They speak more than fifty dialects.

Leshi Township Township in Sagaing Region, Burma

Leshi Township or Layshi Township is a mountainous township located within the Naga Self-Administered Zone of Sagaing Region, Myanmar. It is also part of the Naga Self-Administered Zone. The principal town is Leshi.

Tangsa, also Tase and Tase Naga, is a Sino-Tibetan languages or language cluster spoken by the Tangsa people of Burma and north-eastern India. Some varieties, such as Shangge, are likely distinct languages. There are about 60,000 speakers in Burma and 40,000 speakers in India.

Makury, or Makury Naga, is a Naga language of India and Burma. Shi (2009:3) and Saul (2005:25) suggest that Makury may be an Ao language.

Hill tribes of Northeast India

The hill tribes of Northeast India are hill people, mostly classified as Scheduled Tribes (STs), who live in the Northeast India region. This region has the largest proportion of scheduled tribes in the country.

History of the Nagas

Apart from cultural contacts with the neighboring Ahoms, the ruler of Assam from 1228, the Nagas had little or no contact with the outside world, including that of greater India, until British colonization and rule of the area in the nineteenth century.

The Makury tribe is one of the Naga tribes that mostly resides in Naga Self-Administered Zone in Myanmar and some in Nagaland, India. They are one of the major Naga tribes of Myanmar and mostly inhabits around Lay Shi Township in Myanmar. However, in India due to lack of official recognition from Government of Nagaland are considered sub-tribe of Yimchunger tribe.


  1. "Census of India". Census India. MHA, Govt ofIndia.
  2. "Naga ethnic group Myanmar".
  3. "Nagas of Myanmar".
  4. "Nagas". Minority Rights Group. Retrieved 27 November 2020.
  5. Grierson. Linguistic Survey of India Vol iii part ii. p. 194.
  6. Hodson, TC (1911). The Naga tribes of Manipur. p. 9.
  7. Upper Chindwin District vol A. Burma Gazetteer. p. 22.
  8. Burma Gazetteer, Upper chindwin vol A. page 23. published 1913
  9. Drouyer, Azevedo, Isabel, Drouyer, René, THE NAGAS -MEMORIES OF HEADHUNTERS vol.1, White Lotus, 2016, p. 7
  10. Ao, Ayinla Shilu. Naga Tribal Adornment: Signatures of Status and Self (The Bead Society of Greater Washington. September 2003) ISBN   0-9725066-2-4
  11. "Arts and crafts of the Nagas" Archived 19 June 2009 at the Wayback Machine , Nagaland, Retrieved 23 June 2009
  12. "Naga shawls in for geographical registration",, 7 April 2008
  13. Shikhu, Inato Yekheto. A Re-discovery and Re-building of Naga Cultural Values: An Analytical Approach with Special Reference to Maori as a Colonized and Minority Group of People in New Zealand (Daya Books, 2007), p. 210
  14. Mongro, Kajen & Ao, A Lanunungsang. Naga Cultural Attires and Musical Instruments (Concept Publishing Company, 1999), ISBN   81-7022-793-3
  15. "Tourism: General Information". Government of Nagaland. Archived from the original on 30 October 2011. Retrieved 24 October 2011.
  16. Christopher Moseley (6 December 2012). Encyclopedia of the World's Endangered Languages. Routledge. pp. 572–. ISBN   978-1-135-79640-2 . Retrieved 8 September 2013.
  17. Arkotong Longkumer (4 May 2010). Reform, Identity and Narratives of Belonging: The Heraka Movement in Northeast India. Continuum. pp. 6–7. ISBN   978-0-8264-3970-3 . Retrieved 8 September 2013.

Further reading